ST. PAUL, MN.- For many, Ellis Island is the ultimate symbol of American immigration and the immigrant experience. The Minnesota History Center opened a new exhibit celebrating the stories of the more than 12 million immigrants who entered the United States through the federal immigration station.
Augustus Frederick Sherman worked at Ellis Island in the years 1905-1920. He was an untrained, yet highly gifted photographer who created hundreds of images documenting new arrivals to America. Fascinated by the diverse origins and cultural backgrounds of his subjects, Sherman created a riveting series of portraits, offering viewers a compelling perspective on this dynamic period in our countrys history. (Photo at right: Ruthenian woman.)
The exhibit Augustus Frederick Sherman: Ellis Island Portraits 19051920 features 75 framed black-and-white photographs reflecting the cultural and ethnic diversity of people arriving at the turn of the last century. Sherman took photographs of families, groups and individuals who were being detained either for medical reasons or for further interrogation. In many cases, the subjects were fleeing poverty, natural disaster, and political and religious persecution. And sometimes, after being detained, the immigrant was deported.
Over the course of his career at Ellis Island, Sherman took more than 200 pictures, often encouraging his subjects to open their suitcases and put on their elaborate national costumes or folk dress. He captured images of Romanian shepherds, German stowaways, circus performers and women from Guadeloupe. (Photo at left: Guadeloupe Women.)
The New York Times has called the exhibit powerful striking and one of the most substantial photographic records of that period of mass immigration. Dan Spock, Director of the Minnesota History Center, says looking at these rare pictures you can't help but reflect on what it means to be an American, both 100 years ago and now that the descendants of these immigrants have been Americans for three generations or more.